Why has a friendly tabloid exposed a sex scandal in the President’s ranks?
Washington DC – The National Enquirer presented Trump watchers with a mystery last week. Why did it print an attack on Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort? A headline screamed: ‘Trump advisor sex scandal — Paul Manafort’s sick affair.’ A 68-year-old man’s alleged dalliance with a ‘hottie half his age’ might seem a trivial subject to discuss as the US convulses over the issue of race once again, this time after a white supremacist killed a woman protester in Charlottesville, Virginia. President Trump has electrified supporters and opponents alike by siding with those who want to keep the town’s statue of the Confederate general, Robert E. Lee.
But the Enquirer is a Trump ally, owned by a rich friend. It was one of the few national publications to predict his victory in last year’s presidential election. Why now a hit piece on the one man he must surely need to keep onside in the Russia investigation? One answer: Manafort has been ‘flipped’.
Reports in US publications say it was Manafort who told the FBI about a meeting between Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr, and a Russian lawyer linked to the Kremlin. That would be terrible news for the President if true: the FBI’s investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia now being assisted by the manager of that campaign.
A vague outline of the truth is starting to emerge from the fog. It is that the Russians made continual attempts to get close to Trump and his associates, part of what the US intelligence agencies all agree was a Kremlin plot to subvert the election. Trump’s supporters believe that any such approaches never went anywhere (as Jr says happened with his meeting) or that the tough New York property developer from The Apprentice was playing the Russians without being played himself. Trump’s enemies, believing him to be a man with no moral compass, imagine he was only too eager to take whatever was being offered: information; weird sex in a Moscow hotel room; money, lots of it, for his businesses.
This is why it is so important that the FBI investigation, led by a special counsel, Robert Mueller, now appears to be reaching back into Trump’s business past. Mueller’s team of prosecutors includes a number of experts in money-laundering and New York real estate. The US media is speculating that he is trying to build an old-fashioned wire fraud, tax evasion and racketeering case against Trump. This is a neuralgic issue for the President. In a New York Times interview he agreed that any investigation of his finances was a ‘red line’ Mueller should not cross. ‘I would say yeah. I would say yes. By the way, I would say, I don’t — I don’t — I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows?’ Trump’s most recent partner in ‘selling a lot of condos’ was a man called Felix Sater. Sater was once jailed for stabbing a man in the face with the broken stem of a martini glass. He was convicted of a massive stock fraud — a partnership between the Russian and Italian-American mafias — but stayed out of jail by becoming an FBI informant.
For several weeks there have been rumours that Sater is ready to rat again, agreeing to help Mueller. ‘He has told family and friends he knows he and POTUS are going to prison,’ someone talking to Mueller’s investigators informed me. Sater himself added fuel to this fire when he told New York magazine last week: ‘In about the next 30 to 35 days, I will be the most colourful character you have ever talked about. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about it now, before it happens. And believe me, it ain’t anything as small as whether or not they’re gonna call me to the Senate committee.’
Sater and Manafort together would pose a deadly threat to Trump’s presidency if they testify that Russian money in his businesses led to information being exchanged with Russian intelligence. This is exactly the relationship — an ‘exchange running between them for at least eight years’ — that the former MI6 officer Christopher Steele described in his ‘dossier’. At a news conference this week at his New Jersey golf club, the President bizarrely asserted that the Steele dossier had been paid for by Russia in order to damage him. This is the latest twist in Trump’s response to the dossier, which began with flat denials in January that he had been filmed by Russian intelligence with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room.
That remains unproven. Nevertheless, Steele is not the only source. I heard of Russian kompromat — compromising material — on Trump from two sources months before the Steele dossier came to light. That might be evidence for Trump’s statement that Russian intelligence, as well as the US agencies, are out to get him. There are, though, reports of witnesses in the hotel who corroborate Steele’s reporting. These include an American who’s said to have seen a row with hotel security over whether the (alleged) hookers would be allowed up to Trump’s suite. The dossier’s account of hookers in a Moscow hotel room was the subject of gossip among a select group of journalists, politicians, and intelligence people for months before it was published. Now, claims are circulating of more tapes showing even more extreme behaviour. Expect these allegations to emerge in due course.
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